Recently, I attended a conference given at my local Chamber of Commerce. It was entitled, How to Bring Your Business to the Next Level. The reason I mention it is that the speaker covered several points that tie in with the 3 most common mistakes freelancers make, outlined below.
1. Not Targeting a Market: I call this lack of freelancer focus. Do you drive without a destination? Probably not. Most of us know where we’re going when we get in our cars, on the train, on the bus. We have a specific destination in mind.
Because editorial and creative freelancing encompass such broad categories, it can be difficult to focus. Eg, writing. Huh? For what – magazines, e-zines, newspapers, websites, newsletters, brochures, direct mail, etc., etc., etc.
What type of writing for what sector? Legal, medical, technical, scientific, real estate, financial, general (what does that mean?), etc., etc., etc.
What type of client? B2B, B2C.
As you can see, your choices are endless. And, you may be talented enough to write in many sectors. However, you will have a hard time selling this to potential clients, and you will almost always be beaten out for assignments by those who specialize and have the body of work to prove it.
I know this first-hand. I owned Inkwell Editorial, an editorial staffing agency in New York City, from 1996-2004. When I was recruiting for clients, I ALWAYS chose freelancers who had a background in the discipline for the assignment. Why? Because clients demanded it and they made me look good. I mean, when you think about it, why would I choose someone who was a generalist when I had 15 or 20 just as qualified candidates who had years of experience in what I was looking for? It was a no brainer.
That’s why I’m adamant that freelancers should specialize. It’s not that you can’t go outside your speciality, but if you target a specific market, you build your client list that much faster and can service them better. Once you have your bread and butter clients, you can choose a secondary market – if you feel it necessary.
So, choose a niche market and focus all of your marketing dollars on it. Feel free to take other things as they fall in your lap, but give your chosen market your “laser focus,” eg, ad dollars, promotional efforts, etc.
2. Not Creating a Business Plan: Don’t shut down! Come back. Focus. Pay attention. This is not more corporate mumbo jumbo – I promise. I’m not saying spend 6 months to a year writing a 30-page document that has to be presented to a venture capitalist.
BUT, I am saying that you need the bones of a business plan in front of you. Eg, who’s your target market; how will you reach them; via which advertising medium; what servies will you offer; how much will you charge; how much will it cost you to provide the service (remember, as an editorial/creative worker, your “product” is time); what is your ad budget; how much will you need to reach your goals (eg, quit your job, bring in an extra $x/month)? All of these questions – and some more – should be answered.
Many freelancers fail at freelancing because they don’t do this type of detailed thinking before starting out. You can take one weekend and flesh all of this out and be done with it. Just be sure to write it down and REFER TO IT OFTEN.
3. Not creating a marketing plan. If you are building your business on the cheap, as many do just starting out, it will take much more time than you realize.
So, you will need to map out a plan of what you’re going to do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to reach your financial goals. Trust, trust, trust me that if you don’t, you will make less money and become frustrated with what could be a wonderful career. It ALWAYS takes longer than what you think.
Doing even a scractch marketing plan will make you feel accomplished – especially if you are doing something every day to market your business. It could be as simple as writing one article a day, pitching 10 potential clients whose info you found on the web, submitting one press release a week.
Imagine if you did just the above, that would be five new articles, 50 client pitches and one press release – all in one week. Now, multiply this by four (a month); 12 (a quarter); 52 (yearly) and you can see how just garnering even a 2% response rate would net you 52 new clients a year (50 client pitches/week x 52 weeks x 2%).
I could go on and on on this topic because it can’t be repeated enough. Many freelancers think that they can just get a website, put in a marginal effort and things will happen. And sure, it will, but it will be in trickles, dribs and drabs.
If you want to make a real go of freelancing, treat it like a real business from the get-go, and you exponentially increase your chance of success.